Tsukiji Fish Market (築地市場)

The main avenue leading to the market.
I have to say, my visit to Tsukiji Fish Market was a partial failure!

This gate belongs to Namiyoke Inari Shrine (波除稲荷神社),
The temple is hundreds of years old and the market was
built around it, thereby leaving it intact.
You see, my plan was to go to bed early the day before I planned to visit, wake up at around 2am, and grab a taxi to the market in order to sign up to see the auctions which take place in the 5 o'clock hour and end in the 6 o'clock hour. Tons of tourists would like to watch the auctions, yet there is not enough room in the market for the crowds. Therefore, only 120 people are allowed into the market per day. Luckily it's free, but you must get there extremely early in the morning to secure a place in either the 5:25 am to 5:50 am group or 5:50 am to 6:15 am group; 60 visitors are allowed to enter the market during each block of time.

Unfortunately, I came back to my apartment late the day before, so I woke up too late to sign up for the free tour. What a bummer! Fortunately, I still got out of bed early enough to catch the hustle and bustle at the market.

Tsukiji Fish Market is easily accessible. Simply take the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line to Tsukiji Station. Luckily, I was only two stops away (Kayabacho Station was 10 minutes from my apartment). The Tsukiji Fish Market is listed on the exit directory. I remember there is a Denny's restaurant adjacent to the correct exit. You'll simply have to walk north away from Denny's for almost 10 minutes until you see the market on your left.


Cherry blossoms @ Tian Yuan Temple (天元宮)

It kind of looks like the cherry blossoms are
growing out of my head!
Cherry blossoms are even more beautiful on
a sunny morning.
When I went to Tokyo, I missed the cherry blossoms there by a couple of weeks. Due to my schedule, I had no choice. Nonetheless, I don't regret it because Danshui is home to many cherry blossom trees in the mountains at the base of the scenic Tian Yuan Temple (tianyuan gong; 天元宮).

Every year, the flowers draw massive crowds from Taipei. Luckily, I lived 10 minutes away from the temple, so I could hop on the bus there without a hassle. However, the trip could take hours depended where you're coming from. If Taipei is your starting point, take the MRT to Danshui Station and take bus 875 of the cherry blossom viewing express straight to the temple. Naturally, the express only exists during cherry blossom season, yet the lines are long - extremely long. At the peak of cherry blossom season, they are even long on weekdays! However, the weekday crowd is definitely smaller than the weekend hoard.

The ride up the mountain to Tian Yuan Temple is fun, and the sights are majestic. One thing I love about the greater Taipei area are the rural pockets of semi-isolated communities and farm land. The morning I made my pilgrimage to the temple, it was gorgeous outside which significantly enhanced the view. I wasn't traveling far from home, but I still felt I was going on vacation. Once you're in northern Danshui's mountains, it feels like you're in a completely different city.

This was one of the few darker cherry blossom trees.


Hidden Gem: Ansen Patisserie

Ansen's unassuming signage.
I discovered Ansen Patisserie inadvertently while watching one of my favorite NHK World programs, Begin Japanology. The show is hosted by music critic and DJ Peter Barakan (ピーター バラカン). (I use his Japanese language radio show Barakan Beat to practice listening). Each episode of Begin Japanology focuses on a specific aspect of Japanese culture. I watched the episode about bread (which can be found on the left) just days before taking off for Tokyo
Ansen bakery is close to Nishi-Ogikubo Station.
Follow the main road and look out for it
on your right.
Since I have IBS, additives and other chemicals irritate my digestive system and can cause painful reactions which last for days. Additives and processed ingredients like margarine oftentimes found in bread and pastries irritate my stomach but are common in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese-style bread (I have learned the hard way). So, I had concluded I wouldn't be eating bread in Tokyo, but Begin Japanology changed my mind with the snippet on Ansen Patisserie where all the bread and pastries are made by hand without additives.

The bakery is located in a quiet Nishiogikubo (西荻窪) district neighborhood. The area is easily accessible through the JR Chuo Line (rapid service) or Chuo-Sobu Line, which I took since I went on a weekend. By foot, bakery is a couple minutes west of Nishi-Ogikubo Station.


Liuhe Night Market (六合夜市)

The night market sign.
Liuhe Night Market (liuhe yeshi; 六合夜市) is not only the most popular night market in Kaohsiung, but it is arguably one of the best-known tourists attractions in the city. Open from 5pm to 6am (!), the market offers a wide variety of foods to try, especially seafood. Naturally, like the majority of night markets in Taiwan, items like toys and clothes are also for sale in the market. 

Accessing the Liuhe Night Market isn't complicated; simply take the MRT to Formosa Boulevard Station (meili dao zhan;美麗島站) and consult the exit guide to determine where the market is located. It's less than a five minute walk from the station. Luckily, my dad and I were staying down the street from Formosa Boulevard Station so we didn't have to ride the train to get to the market. 

When it comes to food, Dad isn't as adventurous as I am. Therefore, we ate dinner at out hotel before going to the night market in case he didn't see anything appealing enough to try. I had eaten too, but of course I saved enough room to indulge at the market. My infatuation with food is undying. ;)

Seafood is king at this night market,
but it comes at a hefty price...
My favorite thing about Liuhe Night Market was that there were several snacks on sale there that I hadn't seen in other markets. Also, the market was clean and organized - certainly a big plus. 

Still, as the market is strongly geared toward tourists, several items were overpriced. A small portion of BBQ squid which is usually seen for around 50NT was 100NT at Liuhe Night Market! Often times, you can buy three portions of BBQ squid for 100NT. I allowed myself to try a few snacks, but I skipped several dishes due to the unfair pricing.


Visiting Aoki Tatsuyuki at Tama Cemetery

TSPO in 1990.
Founder ASA-CHANG (yellow/black hat); TSPO's current leader
Atsushi Yanaka (top left); the late Aoki Tatsuyuki (bottom left);
and late Cleanhead Gimura (in black).
I'm a huge fan of all types of Japanese music, specifically kayokyoku, alternative, and instrumental. One of my favorite Japanese jazz bands is the internationally acclaimed Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra - TSPO or Skapara for short. They have a more mainstream sound now which is enjoyable, but I love the blues, funk, and occasionally black gospel influences of their earlier music, all without performing in highly offensive blackface like Rats & Star...

Aoki featured on the July '95
issue of Rhythm & Drums
with Takahashi.
TSPO was formed in in 1985; this marks their 30th year. Their over-the-top, highly energized performances earned them a record deal in 1989. Although the group was founded by percussionist ASA-CHANG (real name: Asakura Hirokazu; 朝倉弘一), at the fore was Cleanhead Gimura (クリーンヘッド ギムラ) whose real name was Sugimura Eiji (杉村英詩). His onstage presence was funny and flamboyant, and his talent was apparent as he was both the group's vocalist and occasional backing musician. Gimura brought TSPO's instrumentals alive in the 1980's until 1994. Unfortunately, he passed away in '95 after a short battle with brain cancer. The last album he actively participated in was FANTASIA (ファンタジア), one of my favorite TSPO records; worthy of its name, its a dreamlike album. I especially love Gimura's vocals on Akai Tori no Ballad (朱い鳥のバラード). The group commemorated him with GRAND PRIX (グランプリ), arguably their first album to target a wide audience due to its mainstream pop sound. Several actors and guest musicians like Takahashi Yukihiro (高橋幸宏), one of my all-time favorites, contributed to GRAND PRIX. I think TSPO made GRAND PRIX a lively album to reflect Gimura's electric personality. 
I was able to score copies of
from BookOff stores in Tokyo.

Sadly, Gimura was not the only TSPO member to pass away. Their original drummer, Aoki Tatsuyuki (青木達之) died in '99 in apparent Tokyo rail accident. However, as he was struck after walking onto the tracks, his death was widely publicized as a suicide. Nonetheless, there was no suicide note so authorities did not conclude he took his own life. Either way, I feel it was an extremely unfortunate event since Aoki was an incredibly innovative and sharp drummer, composer, and DJ. While TSPO did not release an album in his name, they expressed their sadness regarding his untimely death on their live album Ska Evangelists on the Run. I think Motegi Kinichi (茂木欣一) - Aoki's successor and TSPO's current drummer - is extremely talented as well (he has a great singing voice to boot), but I still prefer Aoki.
TSPO's European tour poster.
Six of the eleven original members

I have yet to see a TSPO show, but thanks to technology I have watched several of their performances, including ones from the early 90's. Below is a clip of TSPO performing a cover of the late Bobby Bland's 36-22-36 on a street in Shibuya, Tokyo on New Year's Day, 1990 (a little over a month before I was born!).

TSPO is going on a European tour next month, so if you have an opportunity to see them, make sure you do! I certainly wish I could.

It might sound strange, but I wanted to visit the graves of Cleanhead Gimura and Aoki Tatsuyuki when I knew I would be going to Tokyo. I searched extensively but couldn't find where Gimura was buried. On the other hand, I quickly located the exact location of Aoki's gravesite in the expansive Tama Cemetery or Tama Reien (多摩霊園) through this website


Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum Köln

The museum entrance.
The Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum Köln is one of the most popular museums in Cologne, and in Germany. Its popularity was apparent the day my friend and I visited as there was a large, international crowd there. Admission is expensive at 9 euros, but children can enter for 6 euros, and if you have an international student ID card like I did, you pay 6 euros.

Naturally, the admission price does not include entrance to the museum cafe which serves a variety of specialty chocolate treats and drinks. We thought the cafe might be expensive, so since we were on a tight budget and knew we would make purchases at the gift shop after exploring the museum, my friend and I opted to skip the cafe.